The Industrial Age concept of a team is not appropriate for collaboration on the Internet
Examining the Industrial Age's approach
Going through the articles again more carefully and making notes as I went along, I saw how a typical Industrial Age strategist would view the use of the Internet. These can be summarized as follows:
1) The business approach to e-business and e-commerce must be by way of projects. These are the principle units of organisation.
2) Projects are the structural framework for implementing all initiatives, progress, growth and change.
3) Projects are run by teams: to do feasibility studies, create business strategies, develop new products, devise imaginative marketing schemes, plan expansion, think out suitable training and educational programs.
4)The Internet provides a wonderful opportunity to create collaborative tools to manage teams and assist these teams to manage projects
5) For a team to use the Internet there will be a need for new, project management tools that will assist and co-ordinate enterprise project-based collaboration.
7) All procedures, methods and tools must be carefully evaluated, selected and deployed.
Every one of the software systems described in the articles referenced by Yvan assumed projects were based upon well thought out, fully detailed plans. The systems recommended were mostly based upon a virtual workspace that concentrated on planned goals, monitoring every step of the progress , setting standards, detailing documents.
Reading through each article, I kept coming across such expressions as: proper planning; clear, concise performance targets; consensus-based decision-making; support for standards, clearly identified goals, defining shared goals, the means to achieve goals, tracking progress towards goals, project control and reporting, development of work breakdown structures, resource assignments, estimating and project scheduling, reporting of effort to date, current financial variance from the initial baseline, work flow designations, document handling, the flow of work, common documents, scheduling based on resources, viewing personal and group schedules and commitments, maintaining a data repository for projects.
Can you just imagine such a system working reliably in the chaotic and competitive environments of e-business and e-commerce: with new technology and new techniques constantly throwing these plans into disarray? Yet these were serious propositions, by advisors to big corporations who were spending millions of dollars on such schemes. Any increase in efficiency offered by digital communication technology would surely be wiped out by such unrealistic approaches to complex systems. As a croupier at one of the poker games I played at used to say when somebody made an unprofessional play, "I wish they'd come and play a private game of poker with me in my front room".
All the software systems for organising projects described in the articles - variously named groupware, teamware and knowledge retrieval - were based upon the Industrial Age concept of a team. This is so fundamental to all Industrial Age strategies that it is probably impossible for many corporate managers and executives to imagine a world where the managed team is not the most efficient structure. Thus, much of the software solutions were particularly concerned with leadership, people problems and team spirit.
The common theme seemed to be that technology is important, but, human management is more so. People must be motivated and rewarded for collaborative efforts and the project results. Consideration must be given to human and business motivation. The articles warned of the dangers of personal politics endangering team co-operation and collaboration. The software packages included various built in mechanisms that supported and encouraged desirable behavior. All the articles emphasized the importance of psychological issues, warning that ego or emotional factors would be likely to complicate matters.
Extrapolating from the concerns and problems with people issues in the conventional, bricks and mortar world, the articles predicted these issues would be even more of a problem in an e-business environment, where the team members of virtual teams would be geographically separated. Their solution was to call for new codes of behavior, encouraged by financial rewards and other inducements of personal and career opportunities for advancement and growth.
The articles emphasized a back up need, for all the software solutions they were recommending, that would encourage staff to be hard working, focused and dedicated. It was seen as essential for project leaders to pay attention to people's personal needs, provide adequate training support and coaching. Most of the recommended software packages had provisions for the electronic implementation and support for various psychological methods of people manipulation.
As I read through all the articles, I came to the conclusion that they were not really about having a competitive approach to e-commerce and e-business. It seemed to me, more like lists of all the kind of things you would need to put into a sales pitch to sell a multi million dollar scheme to a gullible corporate management who had no first hand knowledge of operating in the digital world.
It all sounds so plausible. That is, until you start to think about how such a team based project might compete against an Information Age communicator who is able to create a group of experts on the fly; able to re-configure a group of specialists to meet any contingency; respond instantly to any new technological advances or surprise moves made by the competition. Without the need to have to manage, motivate or train anyone, the Information Age communicator will be able to run rings arounds any managed team.
The idea of an unmanaged group, where there is no concern for people issues or human welfare, must seem utterly bizarre to an Industrial Age mind set. It doesn't seem workable and goes against everything that has ever been written about groups in all the managerial training manuals. However, this is a phenomenon that is going to dominate the organisational structuring of Internet based businesses.
Although the managed team will still be ubiquitous and an essential element of organisation in the Information Age, its functioning will be confined to specific tasks and geographic locations. It will feature mostly in the physical areas of e-business and e-commerce, outside of the periphery of the Internet.
Conventional management techniques are not portable to a highly connective environment, so, the role of the managed team will stop at the boundery of the Internet. The Internet is the domain of unmanaged teams. Rather than lead and initiate e-business and e-commerce solutions, the managed teams will follow. As bizarre as this must seem to the Industrial Age mind, the prime objectives of the managers of managed teams will be to follow the directions and initiatives provided by unmanaged groups, where at times they might even appear not to have a leader.
It is this strange state of affairs that we shall be investigating in the remaider of this book.